INDEPENDENCE, Ohio, May 15 — On May 15, organized labor secured a major victory for railroad workers and safety when Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak (D) signed a two-person crew bill into law.
Assembly Bill 337 passed out of the Nevada Senate on May 7, 2019, by a 13-8 party-line vote. Previously A.B. 337 was approved by the Nevada State Assembly by a 29-12 vote. The bill requires a two-person crew on Class I and Class II railroads in the state of Nevada.
Matt Parker, BLET Nevada State Legislative Board Chairman, worked closely with Jason Doering, his counterpart with the SMART Transportation Division, to lobby in favor of the bill.
“We let legislators know that A.B. 337 should be passed so when things go wrong, two trained and experienced crew members are in the train cab to help, no matter what,” Brother Parker said. “This is about the safety of the communities we travel through — not just for the train crews, but more importantly for the residents of those communities.”
Brother Parker thanked the bill’s primary sponsors, Assemblywomen Susie Martinez and Maggie Carlton, as well as Assemblywoman Shea Backus, who is one of two co-sponsors. Brother Parker noted that Assemblywoman Martinez is a fellow Teamster and member of Local 986, while Assemblywoman Backus is a private-practice attorney with knowledge of the Railway Labor Act (her husband is a UPS commercial cargo airline pilot). Backus shut down the Union Pacific General Counsel’s attempt to argue Federal preemption during an Assembly hearing. She also submitted outstanding written testimony in favor of two-person train crews, which reads in part:
“[W]e can look at recent events with the Boeing 737 Max Jet’s Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (“MCAS”) failures. While there were two crashes, there was another incident wherein a third on-board pilot took steps to avoid the plane from engaging in repeated nose-down maneuvers caused by the MCAS failure. Like pilots, railroad engineers are trained to avoid incidents. Likewise, we don’t hear about all avoided train accidents due to crew members’ actions.“
He also recognized Assemblyman Richard Carrillo for co-sponsoring the bill. Carrillo””s father was a career railroader on the Santa Fe and has always been a great friend to the BLET regarding the union’s issues.
“Elections have consequences, and the support we received is definitely an example of electing the right people,” Brother Parker said.
In spite of the victory, Brother Parker expressed concern that members in both chambers of the state legislature seemed to put their political bias ahead of worker safety.
“We are grateful for those Legislators and this Governor who have listened to and agreed with our concerns regarding safety as it relates to the issue of crew size,” Brother Parker said. “Concurrently, it is truly a shame that Republican Legislators have, for two consecutive legislative sessions, treated this as a partisan issue. When Nevada””s original crew size statute was passed in 1909, there was only one ‘no’ vote in each house. Further, a survey of residents from all across this state in January showed that 89% would vote in support of this legislation of they could, a fact that was included in testimonies in this session. The constituency of those Legislators should now hold them accountable for placing corporate interests ahead of public safety and ignoring the will of their constituents.”
Brother Parker concluded: “Our success in getting this measure passed in the current legislative session and approved by this Governor has perhaps more to do with electing the right people last November than with any other factors. It is a testament to something written by author Ronald M. James in his book, ‘The Roar and the Silence: A History of Virginia City and the Comstock Lode.’ In that book, Mr. James wrote: ‘Mine owners may not always have wished to concede points at the negotiating table, but the union realized its goal by divorcing the capitalists from the sources of power needed to enforce oppressive positions. The lesson that the Comstock taught miners throughout the West for years to come was to control local offices to ensure that they not be used against organized labor.’ The repeal of Nevada””s original crew size statute and the substantial fight we have had to wage to restore it should also serve as a reminder to our members to be very cautious of what you may be willing to concede in the present; it is often much easier to give something away than it is to get it back.”
Nevada becomes the second state to adopt a railroad safety/two-person crew law in 2019. Colorado Governor Jared S. Polis signed a two-person crew bill into law on March 21, signifying a significant boost to railroad safety in the state. A national two-person crew law was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Congressman Don Young (R-AK) on March 22, 2019. The Safe Freight Act (H.R.1748) requires that two certified crew members operate freight trains on U.S. rails and has the backing of the BLET and SMART TD. It currently has 44 co-sponsors.
BLET National President Dennis R. Pierce thanked Brother Parker and all members of the Nevada State Legislative Board for their efforts to secure passage of this important safety legislation.
“Brother Parker has done an excellent job for more than a year now working on this legislation to make railroads a safer place to work and better neighbors to the communities through which they travel,” President Pierce said. “I hope other state governments will follow Nevada in adopting similar railroad safety laws.”
Wednesday, May 15, 2019